If you’re an enterprise IT communication manager at any large organization, you’re facing far more challenges than your predecessors. Technology choices are mushrooming. Users are demanding consumer-like choices and services. And, your organization is likely undergoing constant reinvention as it strives to stay competitive for customers and employees in this digital age.
In the past, you had fewer options. While you had many telephony system vendors to choose among, their feature sets were fairly similar. But now, telephony can come from most any direction -- on premises or from cloud UC, communications platform as a service (CPaaS), smartphones, and communications built into applications.
Users are now experiencing mobile communications, speech recognition, Web communications, and online meetings that delight them much more than the vendor-supplied packaged solutions available to them from enterprise IT. And, chief executives and most business unit or departmental leaders know they must innovate in the digital world, or face disruption and irrelevance.
In the past, you could choose a good, solid vendor and rely on the vendor to stay at the leading edge of innovation. But that doesn’t work anymore. Apple and Google, the smartphone leaders, don’t make PBXs, and likely never will. Cisco, Avaya, Mitel, NEC, and other IP-PBX and network infrastructure leaders make neither smartphones nor application software packages, and likely never will. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are leading the way in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), including offering their tools to others such as contact center software producers that are incorporating Google AI. Yet, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are also applying their advancements to their own cloud-based solutions. So, the integration of all these tools for communications in your enterprise is up to you, the communications manager, and your team.
So, what to do? I have a lot of specific ideas -- and maybe those are for a future post -- but the first step, seems to me, is to apply management principles such as these four:
1. Relate contextually
Allocate a portion of your time, every day or at least every week, to staying in touch with your peers and your leadership in IT and in the business or operating departments. In your conversations, ask your peers how you and your team can help them with their own challenges; in the process, they may find ways to help you. For example, you could form alliances with your peers in network infrastructure, applications software management, information security, and business analysis, architecture, and planning. These alliances can pay enormous dividends. In each of these cases, you can make your decisions in ways that make life easier for your peers. In return, your peers can amplify your initiatives to produce far greater benefits to the overall organization.
Similarly, regular dialogs with your peers in each operating department will assure you’re serving their evolving needs, rather than being surprised when they sign up for one more online service or load one more communications app on their smartphones. Maybe you’ll need to become a communications agent or broker for the operating departments, but that’s a good thing since that’ll make you the go-to person for all things communications.
From these relationships, you’ll have a foundation for relating to IT and organizational leadership in ways that are connected to the business or organizational strategies and priorities. Sometimes, this may signal that your communications technology team can do less. For example, you may no longer need to provide desk phones and telephone numbers for mobile employees. This, in turn, will free up time, resources, and budget to work on necessary new ideas.
2. Manage informedly
Best-in-class management in the digital age is driven by data. Data, data, data. Be sure that essentially everything your department does produces data about usage -- how much, how often, and by whom. This will provide amazing insights that will inform your decisions as well as your peer relationships. I’m often surprised in finding communications managers who aren’t looking at hourly, daily, and monthly dashboards of usage data to guide their work.
Where possible, you should also be recording or logging communications sessions -- voice, video, email, meetings, IM, texting, etc. Analytic tools are just getting better and better. Archive this data, too, since it will be possible in, say, five years, to apply artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) to this historical data to analyze trends, find communications bottlenecks, and expose other opportunities for improved communications and workflows in your organization.
3. Choose wisely
This paraphrases the ancient knight in an Indiana Jones movie who says of the person who didn’t select the Holy Grail, “He chose poorly.” So, choose wisely. Have a crystal-clear connection to the strategies and goals of the enterprise, the operational departments, and the CIO team. Stay in context (see above) with your peers and leadership and lay your demands on your vendors, rather than simply accepting their marketing hype.
Then translate what you know into specific requirements that will inform your choices. You may find yourself needing to invite unusual vendors to the table and to the bidding and selection processes. Which vendors have the right vision and the staying power? Is it better to buy a voice or contact center service from a traditional category leader or to opt for a cloud service that comes from a vendor that’s leading in big data, AI, or ML? You’re most likely to succeed when you stay in context and have the data.
4. Partition smartly
Lastly, you might consider partitioning out your communications architecture. For example, maybe it’s best to hand off the networking portion of your communications services to your IP networking peer and shift your department toward the communications applications zone.
Or, perhaps CPaaS should be your focus for the future so you’re able to embed communications in the operating departments’ applications and workflows. In such a case, you would then be managing the existing PBX purely as voice infrastructure for desk phones and generic devices (lobbies, halls, security alarms, etc.).
Or, perhaps Usage Profiles, as referenced in prior posts, will show where the users are ready for truly innovative approaches to their requirements, such as a smartphone-only offering for field personnel or a major self-service advancement for employees, clients, customers, or citizens based on speech recognition tools available today (“Alexa, reset my password.”).
By partitioning your investments and your initiatives, you’ll find that some partitions will be quite calm for a period of years, while others are much more active. Then, that will change and evolve, over time. So, you can rotate your focus to that most dynamic area from quarter to quarter or year to year.
Bottom line, we’re in a much more dynamic space than ever before and the stakes are higher than ever for your enterprise or organization. So, adapt and lead! Maybe even ask for a raise or job re-definition, since you have much more value to add for the future. Best of success!
Parker is writing on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.